Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks from "Wilder Research"

The older person who receives better care – thanks you.

The young child who starts school better able to learn – thanks you.

The formerly homeless family – thanks you.

The newly established immigrant business owner – thanks you.

The former substance abuser – thanks you.

The middle-aged person caring for an elderly parent – thanks you.

All of these people, and more, constitute the “results” of the work of Wilder Research over the past many years. As long as our communities have people in need, we will work to meet those needs; beyond that, we will seek to prevent people from falling into need. As long as the residents of our communities strive to improve their quality of life, we will collaborate with them to do so.

We cannot accomplish our work alone. Today’s complex issues require collaborative efforts among many organizations and individuals.

So, thank you to you – our partners, donors, supporters. Whether you worked with us side by side on an initiative, or you offered advice as an advisory committee member, or you supplied funding, or you contributed in any of a myriad of ways to our work, you participated in transforming lives and transforming communities.

During this Thanksgiving season, you have undoubtedly given thanks for the many blessings in your life. In addition, if you have worked with us, or if you have taken action with others to do benevolent work, then please give thanks for the blessings you have brought to those whose lives we have transformed through our efforts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Compass in Unsettling Times, Stubborn Facts, Seismic Shift and … Hannity vs. Obama? Assault on Public Discourse?

Twin Cities Compass annual meeting keynote speaker, Kate Wolford, President of the McKnight Foundation, urged us to rely more than ever on solid information when we make critical decisions during the current “unsettling times”. She likened our situation to that of a boat navigator. Should we rely only on our impressions and past experience – or should we consult charts and reliable navigation devices before we decide where to steer the boat?

Kate congratulated Compass for our nonpartisan, objective approach – in which we convene reasonable people with multiple, and frequently opposing, perspectives to identify what we need to know about our communities, shape a vision for improving our quality of life, and determine how to work collaboratively to make a difference.

An editorial in Thursday’s Pioneer Press praised Compass for focusing attention on “what is” and then motivating people to do something about it:

Facts are stubborn, and they'll exert their effects with our approval or without. It's better, then, in our free and open democratic republic, to acknowledge what is, from various angles — and then decide what to do to about it.

That's the function of Twin Cities Compass, a not-quite 2-year-old project to assemble facts, identify trends, inspire work on things that make life good and measure the effect of that work. With its home at Wilder Research in St. Paul and with funding from a passel of great philanthropic foundations, Twin Cities Compass is a rich source of facts and analysis and ideas for policy-makers, non-profits, business-people and anybody interested in improving our quality of life.

Dan Bartholomay, Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, emphasized the importance of housing as a social and economic asset and noted how it relates to other critical aspects of our lives: health; education; economic development; etc.

Dawn Simonson, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, expanded the audience’s understanding of the profound changes which our communities will experience as a result of dramatic growth in the aging population. She noted that Compass will provide “rich data for action”, and she explained three key measures, among many others, which Compass highlights for the aging population: volunteerism; income; and disability.

We can take pride in the fact that our region always includes a large proportion of people who volunteer. Rates of volunteerism in the Twin Cities area for people in their sixties and seventies exceed rates for those age groups elsewhere in the U.S. Given the health benefits of volunteering, this is a positive trend.

On the other hand, among residents 65-74, about one in five has a disability, with physical challenges such as climbing stairs and lifting the most common. Among those over age 85, about three-fourths have one or more disabilities. So, we need to prepare for increasing numbers of people living longer, and requiring assistance.

Did Sean Hannity debate Barak Obama at the meeting? No. (Although I seem to recall that President Obama once challenged Sean to a debate. If it has not yet occurred, I would be happy to host a faceoff between the two of them at Wilder Center.) I noted the “H vs O” rivalry simply to heighten blog readers’ curiosity, as an entrĂ©e into a very important topic which I raised as we closed the meeting: namely, the assault on public discourse which is all too prevalent as partisans and special interest groups on both the right and the left dig in and refuse to consider compromise.

Our design of Compass built on the premise that we need to move from an “old math” to a “new math”. The old equation was:

Good intentions +
No common base of information =
Inefficient decisions

We want to create the new equation:

Good intentions +
Sound, reliable information +
A common sense of purpose =
Productive decisions for a strong region

Unfortunately, we today live in a world in which interest groups try to derail democratic debate, confuse us, and sway us with false or incomplete information. Their efforts push the equation toward:

Good intentions +
Unsound, Misleading Messages +
Diversions from a common sense of purpose =

Those of us who care about our communities and who seek to work in multi-partisan collaboration must find ways to deflate the diversions. The quality of life of all of us here, as well as all people around the world, depends on it.

(If you're interesed, see the slides from the meeting at

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Another Journey with the Twin Cities Region's Leaders

Last week, we journeyed to Charlotte, North Carolina, as participants in the Inter-City Leadership Visit. This annual visit offers local leaders from government, business, and nonprofit sectors the opportunity to learn first-hand how other cities function and how they overcome challenges which they face. The hope is that we can bring back good ideas to our communities here in Minnesota.

What did we learn this year? Charlotte’s ability to work as a region struck all of us, and it engendered the liveliest conversation during our debriefing at the conclusion of the visit. Charlotte’s leaders realize that world trends have impacts on the region as a whole, not on individual municipalities and counties; they realize that, in the world marketplace, the region – “Charlotte USA” – has an identity, while small components of the region do not.

The Twin Cities region is a socially and economically interdependent entity within the global marketplace of regions. Do we have the will to work as a unified, coherent whole to address issues of economic development, the education of our children, the care of our aging population, and other significant challenges that we face? Or, do Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and perhaps other sections of the region have egos so large that they cannot yet relinquish more of their autonomy than they now give up for regional development and governance?

Air quality and water quality do not recognize political boundaries. Most people easily recognize that. Similarly, trends affecting health, education, housing, public safety, transportation – indeed all of the key elements of our community – do not pay heed to artificially created city and county borders. We need to understand when it makes sense to think small, enabling and empowering local units of government and small communities and neighborhoods to do their own thing – and when it makes sense to join as one, sharing the rewards and the costs of regional cooperation.

I’m working to promote regional thinking and regional action at whatever level makes sense. I hope that you share a regional mindset; and I encourage you to work in similar fashion.